Monday, January 30, 2012

Around the Homestead

It's been a surprisingly mild winter this year. The weather hasn't been "normal" since we arrived. It was an exceptionally wet spring that delayed normal planting times, summer was dryer than usual with a very hot spell in the middle, the autumn went on and on and the snowfall has been pretty inconsequential. So although there have been some times of winter cold, we've had reprieves between storms and the cold when the critters have actually been able to enjoy some grazing and get out a bit. Here are the hens picking over some grass. Tomorrow it's supposed to reach 50, I believe.

Having said that, I don't know if I can rightly judge how our temporary "root cellar" has worked out. That is to say, it's working great but it hasn't really been put to the test of extended deep freeze scenarios. Our cellar is far too warm to be a root cellar so I packed turnips

and carrots in totes with damp sand. A layer of root veggies, a layer of damp sand, repeat until the tote is full and weighs far too much to move. I hope you placed it right where you wanted it before you began. I was glad I did! I snugged them right up against the foundation of the house behind the windbreak of the woodpile. Then we piled bales of hay around and on the totes and put a tarp over the whole shebang. Anyone for some crisp, sweet carrots? (Yeah, they do look a bit muddy at present).

And the pigs have grown a lot. So much so that they pretty much knocked their original shelter apart. It would seem that pigs really like to scratch their itches on the nearest wall. They are not delicate creatures. I don't know why the phrase "bull in a china shop" wasn't coined as "pig in a china shop". So Kent redesigned their shed. And since he is moving the pigs around to let them till up our garden expansions, he found the shed a might difficult to move at times.

His redesign included putting the whole thing on wheels with a rope on either end to tow it. He rolled this right past the front porch while I was standing there with a camera. I didn't even compelled to offer to help. Pretty slick!

And even though it hasn't been terribly cold, certain someones around here like to be dramatic. Here Socks models the brioche knit scarf with ear warmers.

And sometimes they just pile into their custom cat bed with knit mattress cover and terry canopy, snuggling together to keep warm. I remain unconvinced even though they go to great lengths to appear pathetic.

So it's business as usual here with livestock living the good life, pets living a pretty darn good life, and us living a great life. The work is rewarding and satisfying. Sometimes it seems hard to believe we are actually here and other times we can hardly remember being anywhere else.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

If You Haven't Noticed

There is a recurring theme on my blog. Cooking. I do enjoy it. My sister brought me a bumper sticker sized magnet for my fridge:

She knows me.

Inspired by my niece, Shannon, at Thanksgiving, we made a decadent breakfast treat for New Year's. We made Aunt Lucy's Orange Cranberry Walnut Bread batter and then scooped it into the deep fryer to create amazing doughnut holes. SO. GOOD. Certainly not something you'd want to eat every day. Well, you might, but you shouldn't. I think you know what I mean. No recipe here, but I'd encourage you to try making your favorite quick bread into doughnut wholes sometime. Really. Be brave and just wing it.

And I need to share with you how easy it is to make your own mayonnaise. We don't purchase mayonnaise anymore, it's filled with unnecessary additives, unhealthy ingredients, and it's over-priced. Enter homemade. I found this recipe on Mary Hunt's website, I don't know where she got it. Oh, and the best part - you make it right in the jar!

So to a wide-mouth, pint canning jar, place these ingredients in order:

Homemade Mayonnaise

1 egg
1 Tbsp lemon juice (bottled is fine)
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup canola oil*, room temperature

Place an immersion blender in the jar, all the way to the bottom and over the egg yolk. Turn the blender on high and lift toward the top as you see the mayonnaise develop. It should only take one pass of 10-20 seconds. Now rinse off the blender - you're done.

* Ok, canola oil isn't necessarily "healthy", it is over-processed and won't make the list of truly healthy oils. You can use good quality olive oil if you like and I have, but for the least intrusive oil flavor, I do use canola for my mayo. If you ever want to talk about oils, saturated, unsaturated, instability due to missing hydrogen atoms, etc., we can have a private convo.

It makes great mayonnaise. If you cover the jar and let it sit for about 8 hours on the counter, the lemon juice and vinegar will pasteurize the mix. It keeps well in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

And it's so quick, you can make it for a hungry guy at lunch while he's getting sandwich fixings out.

Something I can't believe I've never made before is Pita Bread. We enjoy it dipped in hummus and I love to stuff a pita with hummus, sprouts, cucumber and radish. Why have I never thought to make my own? Maybe it was the mysterious pocket.

Mystery revealed. I found this great recipe here. And I'll repost it here for your convenience:

Pita Bread

1 tablespoon yeast
1 ¼ cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
3- 3 ½ cups flour
  1. Dissolve yeast in water for about 5 minutes in the bowl of an electric mixer.
  2. Add salt and 1 ½ cups flour and with the dough hook, beat to make a batter. Add additional flour until a rough, shaggy mass is formed. Knead 8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if it is too sticky.
  3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into six pieces for large pitas or ten for smaller. I make all sorts of sizes to suit different snacks and meals.
  4. Form dough into balls, then flatten with a rolling pin into ¼ inch thick discs. Try and keep an even thickness as this is what helps them ‘puff’.
  5. Let rest on the floured surface 30-40 minutes until slightly puffed. Preheat oven to 425F.
  6. With a large spatula, flip the rounds of dough upside down on to a baking sheet. Bake 10-15 minutes until light golden. Stick around to watch for the first five minutes of baking when the pitas perform their magic and puff up from flat pancakes to proud, four inch high pitas!
These store for up to two days well wrapped or frozen for three weeks.

How about a pita stuffed with chicken salad from a pasture raised chicken with homemade mayonnaise? Oh yeah.

And finally, tonight we had a turkey dinner with trimmings. Kent butchered 3 more turkeys yesterday and we roasted a 23 pounder for a big family dinner. After a lovely meal of turkey, dressing, green beans and cranberries, some smart aleck said they were looking forward to the pumpkin pie. There was no pumpkin pie. But wait, I like to feed people. I like them to leave my table happy. What could I do? How about... Pumpkin Pie ice cream? Sure, why not? What if I put the pie ingredients, minus the crust and with cream instead of evaporated milk, into the ice cream maker?

Let me tell you that it was a HUGE success! The creamiest, mousse-like, delicious pumpkin ice cream - I don't think I'll ever need pie again. This was truly amazing.

So I'll wrap up and leave you with this recipe:

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

1 can pumpkin puree
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth and well-blended. With ice cream maker running (if you have a Cuisinart), pour the mixture in and let it run for 25 minutes. Enjoy. Just that easy.

I hope you have a great day and if you stop by my house, I'll cook you some tasty food.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Very Pinteresting!

I did all my Christmas shopping on Pinterest this year. If you don't know what that is, you might want to check it out at Let me know and I'll even send you an invite (the quickest way to get involved). It's a site that lets you organize all your web browsing into "bulletin boards" where you "pin" images to help you find things again later. I have boards for cooking, gardening, crafts, etc. When I see something I like - a project or recipe - I "pin" it with an image from the site that will help me quickly locate it on my "bulletin board". I think it's rather ingenious. I'm a visual person and it's so much easier to navigate than bookmarks. One of the really fun things is that you can see what everyone else is pinning, too, and follow those pins back to the nifty sites and stuff they have "pinned". It's like a clearinghouse of great things on the web.

If you are familiar with Pinterest, you might be asking yourself, "How did she do her Christmas shopping on Pinterest? You don't buy things there." And you would be right! But I found great ideas for gifts to make and I'll run through them here for you. I'll provide the link to the original "pin" and then I'll show you what I did with my own version of it.

Another feature of Pinterest is that you can "follow" people who pin things you like or friends/family who are pinning. This turned out to provide me with lots of fodder for gift ideas. My daughter pinned several things that got me excited to make her gifts I knew she'd like.

Like little stuffed owls:

And I made these. She got a kick out the fact that the fabrics included scraps from projects we'd done together and clothes we've made.

She also was quite taken with the Narnia lamppost "snow globe".

Kent and I believe we improved upon the idea with our version.

We searched high and low for a lamp that looked like the one in the movie. When building the nightlight we hid the power supply in a book with a hollowed out space, mounted the jar to the cover and put a fake spine on with an image from Narnia. Again, very well recieved.

This keychain design was a hit with me. A long fob that hangs out of my purse so that I can find them quickly and the loop means I can hang it easily on my wrist while carrying groceries or items in the house.

I made keychains with fabrics hand-picked for the recipients. Since I was mass producing them, I found a few ways to make it easier on myself. Such as doing all my cutting out at one time

And using a posterboard guide for ironing the quarter-inch seam allowances and center folds of the fabrics.

And here are just a few of the finished fobs.

Next up, coasters. When I saw these coasters on Pinterest, I just knew I had to make some.

The tiles come from Home Depot and I used scrapbook papers for decorating. I also got real handy with the ModPodge. Again, I hand-picked colors and papers to hopefully personally suit the recipients.

And then there were the photo cubes. These struck me as beautiful and elegant.

I, however, can't take credit for these, as Kent did all the work. He even figured out a way to make the larger ones double sided by attaching the photos to black foam core and standing them up inside the cubes. I think he did a fabulous job!

And lastly, there are the bracelets. I saw this bracelet on Pinterest and was immediately smitten. I put it right on my to-do list.

What I didn't realize until it was time to make them was that the blog the picture came from was in Russian or some other language I couldn't read. I was on my own... so I winged it.

It was a challenge to get all those buttons strung together and I tried a couple of techniques. In the end, though, I was pleased with my results.

So now you can see why I say I did my Christmas shopping on Pinterest. I have many, many more ideas for things I just can't wait to make. I'll probably be doing birthday and next Christmas's shopping on Pinterest as well. There are just so many wonderful ideas out there!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A little of this and a little of that

I've had some real fun in the kitchen (and otherwise) and although I took photos and tried to make them blog ready, they are not very cooperative. So I'm going to put together the scraps of photos that will agree to upload and give a fly-by of the food fun.

For the Ladies Christmas Tea at our church, I made cupcakes with a pointsettia theme. I'd seen this decorating technique some time ago and been waiting for an opportunity to try it out. They were fun to make and a huge hit. It was one of those satisfying cooking occasions when I didn't have to say, "I saw it going differently in my head."

Want to try it yourself? Check it out here:  I'll be revisiting this technique come spring!

And Mindie decided to bring the excitement to me. Several months after a great day spent filling the sauerkraut crock at her house, she showed up at my door with the crock in question and we canned it up into pints. (Not an easy feat, I might add). Another good day with tasty results.

Sometimes the food fun is just discovering a new recipe for dinner that makes it onto a favorites list. This one for Hearty Chicken Stew with Butternut and Quinoa. It was delicious and especially rewarding using our own chicken and squash.

And there was Christmas baking with Stephanie - we had a lot of fun. Kent reported that there was an excessive amount of giggling, laughing and general silliness. He also said that it's a lot of fun to watch her and I together. I'm so glad my daughter is also my friend. She brings a lot of joy to my life.

And with cooking joy comes lots of dirty dishes. Stephanie was impressed with my mad dish stacking skills. Anyone want to dry for me?

There were spritz cookies which she decorated with melted chocolates and sprinkles. And I made homemade peppermint patties and "Reese" style balls. They were well received, if you know what I mean.

And what Christmas is complete without Pizelle cookies? Yeah, that's what I'm saying. For proof, you can look here.

Can you tell there are two kinds of cookies here? On the right is my version... Orange and coconut since Kent doesn't appreciate the sophicated nuances of anise. On the left... Stephanie's amazing take using almond extract and actual toasted, sliced almonds. I think her cookies may be the best pizelles I have ever tasted. And that's saying something since, through the years, I've had a lot of pizelles to taste. She would also, were she helping me with the post, like me to point out the pizelle iron on the left, a genuine Vitantonio iron, which she scored at the thrift store. These puppies go for hundreds online and she had despaired of ever finding one like mine, which was my mother's, and which is just like her aunts'.

There were many other food pics that didn't cooperate but one I don't want to forget to mention, because it was going to be my big "tip of the month".  When I made the cupcakes for the ladies tea I ran into something that could have caused my baking timetable to get off-track. However, I found a good solution. When your recipe calls for you to cook or heat part of the recipe or an ingredient and then let it cool before proceeding - pull one of your blue ice blocks or sticks out of the freezer and stir away. It's a good thing. I was stirring what was basically a dark chocolate ganache and it worked like a charm and the cleanup was easy. Do you cook a lot? Don't have a blue ice thingy in your freezer? Get thee to the nearest something-mart and spend a buck. You might find you'll thank yourself later.

Ok, not promising I won't have more food to blog about here but I think we're over the hump. All the old pictures that are going to work on here are up and we'll move on to more recent acquisitions.

Hey, this is fun. I'm glad to be back!

Giving Thanks

That at least a few of my pictures from Thanksgiving are useable. Here's an indication that the house was full of family and fun...

We had great things to eat - some new, some traditional favorites, a good percentage of it homegrown...


And we got to celebrate an early Christmas with the grand-girls... the picture of her first sight of the American Girl doll was priceless (and wouldn't load right).

We were so overjoyed to celebrate Thanksgiving this year in our new home with loved ones around us. It was a real joy.

Technical Difficulties

I don't know if I mentioned the demise of my computer last fall. It was a sad event. But a month or so later I thought I was back in business with a new computer. Alas, my photo software was not compatible with the new computer's operating system. This meant that photos for the blog had to go through a difficult and convoluted process before they could make it on the blog. The result was that lots of my fun in blogging was missing.

Now I think I'm really back with updated Photoshop Elements. Yay! I have lots of catching up to do. Since much of the lost time covered the holidays - that means a backlog of food posts. So strap yourself in and let's get back on track...